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Author Topic: Alto clarinet: the reason for it's lack of favor, or perspective gone awry?  (Read 6872 times)

Offline Windsong

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This may be why we see so few alto clarinets.  I'm not really sure I fully follow his theory, in terms of true relevance, but it's an interesting rant, just the same.  While alto range is covered by the abilities of soprano and base ranges, collectively, I remain unconvinced as to the arguement that it is invalidated, thusly.  I have only ever seen ONE person play ONE clarinet at once, and it seems to me that Alto provides a good balance between the two, especially in non-ensemble work.
Have a gander:

https://youtu.be/WG12hRnUMkg
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Offline Silversorcerer

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I watched that video a couple of weeks ago. I felt that the title was chosen to be attention getting, and the explanation was actually quite compelling. I thought it was well presented and well reasoned. In a truly full voicing you need all the voices. Each of these instruments has its' own timbre.

 The author of the video I think was calling for more alto clarinets, which makes a good bit of sense in terms of voicing. We don't give up the mellophone in brass because the cornet and trombone can cover it. It's the same argument. A mellophone is an alto cornet. An orchestra uses the French horn, but there is always a middle brass instrument. The difference between a mellophone and French horn is more than the difference between the alto clarinet and basset-horn when it comes to form, but when it comes to function and key, it's the same thing. The only reason we call it a mellophone was to dodge the patent claim on the Koenig horn. I think the author was correct and that the woodwinds are missing a voice in there compared to the strings and the brass, or vocal choirs.

I found this interesting:

"Alto Clarinets:

You find alto clarinets in harmony bands or symphonic bands, hardly ever in classical symphony orchestras. And there were only few classical compositions for bassett horn at all; but then there was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and the bassett horn was his favorite instrument. That alone will make it very likely that this instrument will stay with us forever."

http://www.the-clarinets.net/english/alto-clarinet.html

Interesting site, bell translates to "funnel".

Thanks, Wolfgang.
- Silversorcerer (David Powell) exclusively for Phil's original “The Clarinet Pages" forum

Offline Airflyte

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Alto clarinet is the viola of the string world. I mean that in a good way  ;)
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Offline Silversorcerer

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I think ideally, the alto clarinet could be approached the same way the mellophone is approached. Because it had a similar voice to the French horn, mellophones were made with tuning slides or extra "crooks" to change from F to Eb or in some cases D or C. This made them adaptable to brass bands, orchestras, and folk bands. Of course there are no tuning slides for woodwinds (brass isn't obsolesced by changing pitch standard), and the approach for orchestral music is to have two clarinets, A and Bb. Before the instrument became chromatic friendly it was not uncommon to use more clarinets in different keys.

These days one could consider an Eb alto and an F basset-horn almost as analogous to the Bb and A soprano clarinet pair, or to the adaptable mellophone. I suppose that basset-horns are far harder to come by than alto clarinets, but for versatility it would perhaps expand the compass of the alto instruments. A basset-horn could read the French horn parts and a director / conductor / arranger would not have to worry too much about scoring a special part.

My own excursion into alto was to take advantage of a middle voice in Eb;- that is NOT a saxophone. Saxophones can be harsh. A clarinet is far smoother. In certain types of performance a saxphone is hard to tame. I will return my C melody sax to soft pads before I ever use that instrument in performance. It's simply too loud.

A clarinet on the other hand has dynamic advantages. It's more versatile. So, anyway, my goal was to use it as both a solo instrument as well as an accompaniment to vocals where it can lay down a very solid continuo, not quite a bass line, but not invading lead vocal space at all;- and capable of solos in the higher registers. And it fits in a much smaller case than a bass clarinet;- about as large as a trumpet case. An alto clarinet is a lot of versatility in a compact package.

I think a large part of alto clarinet use is up to the performers that like to play them. Perhaps if you land a spot in an orchestra you can show up with an F basset-horn.
"No score for my part? Oh, that's cool. I'll just hang with the French horn section......"
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Offline DaveLeBlanc

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For me, alto is a balance between the tough technical passages of soprano and the easier music of the bass.
I'm not good enough to play soprano well, and sometimes bass is a bit boring. So break out the alto.

Also, depends on whether or not I have to walk a long way. Bass is a lot heavier and I hate walking 2 miles roundtrip with it, so alto is nice for those occassions.
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Offline Windsong

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I did enjoy this video, and don't mean to imply that I think the reason Altos are unpopular has to do with the comments made within, or the author's "sway", if you will, but the general concensus (albeit erroneous) among people that it is a duplicitous clarinet, instead, and the author's recognition of this stigma. 
Sorcerer--like you, I really enjoy the voice of the alto.  It does not sound like the upper range of a bass or the lower range of the soprano, despite its ability to play the same notes.  It sounds only like an alto, and it has a much more refined, warmer sound than saxophone, as you menton.  It may not have an active relevance in symphonic outfits, but its sound cannot truly be replaced or reproduced by anything else.
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Offline Silversorcerer

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Re: Alto clarinet: the reason for it's lack of favor, or perspective gone awry?
« Reply #6 on: September 13, 2017, 02:04:30 PM »
I think this video come closer to validating the alto as an effective performance option:
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=T_IA8K7xK8g
- Silversorcerer (David Powell) exclusively for Phil's original “The Clarinet Pages" forum

Offline Airflyte

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Re: Alto clarinet: the reason for it's lack of favor, or perspective gone awry?
« Reply #7 on: September 14, 2017, 08:17:32 AM »
I think this video come closer to validating the alto as an effective performance option:
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=T_IA8K7xK8g

I do like the arrangement but I'm not sure if alto clarinet is the "voice" I want to hear with it.

Check out this clarinet quartet performing Libertango, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QvyBnfLtbsE

        - - - - and then, a saxophone quartet - - - - , https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHOosbInDK4

I guess I prefer a little more edge to the sound on this particular composition but the alto clarinet does quite well with it.
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Offline Dibbs

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Re: Alto clarinet: the reason for it's lack of favor, or perspective gone awry?
« Reply #8 on: September 14, 2017, 08:35:39 AM »
I've never played an alto clarinet.  What are they like to play?  Are they difficult to voice in the clarion like a bass?  Even great bass clarinettists, in the upper registers, often sound like they are on the verge of squeaking.  The alto doesn't seem to have that sound.

Offline DaveLeBlanc

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Re: Alto clarinet: the reason for it's lack of favor, or perspective gone awry?
« Reply #9 on: September 14, 2017, 10:53:11 AM »
It's not too difficult to play, but I always thought it was really weird. I mostly played a metal one so it was really awkward as the mouthpiece seemed too big for the body.
The angle.you hold it is a little odd too, and it's not really have enough for a neck strap but is tough without one.
Clarion seems to be easier than a bass imo.
David Watson of the original The Clarinet Pages
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Offline Silversorcerer

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Re: Alto clarinet: the reason for it's lack of favor, or perspective gone awry?
« Reply #10 on: September 16, 2017, 03:40:52 PM »
 
I've never played an alto clarinet.  What are they like to play?  Are they difficult to voice in the clarion like a bass?  Even great bass clarinettists, in the upper registers, often sound like they are on the verge of squeaking.  The alto doesn't seem to have that sound.
Regard my comments as novice observations after just two weeks with an instrument that is a restoration in progress.

I'm enjoying getting a work out on that Harry Pedler alto now. It's easy in the low register, a bit more challenging in the clarion. It could need a few new pads, and I'm still working out which mouthpiece works with which reed.

It's mostly open hole and that's not an issue. In fact it might fit me better than a Bb soprano. It's the only alto I have played, so not much of a basis for comparison. The rings are a great design for it being perfectly flat to the tone hole tops. It is easily played with the broad flat part of the fingers as opposed to the tips. The glissando technique works well but I noticed that I could even use the c hole plateau in a glissando by sliding off of it.

It's the first time I've customized reeds to improve response. I've been spoiled by consistent success with LaVoz mediums on everything.

That might have worked, but several 1.5 Vandoren reeds came with the mouthpiece(s) and those were way too limber, so I tried some NOS Rico # 3;- great quality cane but too stiff. So I've worked a few of the Ricos down at the heel, and I am getting pretty good sound all the way up.

That transition area between the manual registers is a bit fuzzy, just like with the bass Harry. At least with these being manual, I get to choose which one. One some notes hitting both results in split tones like that sax note in "Low Spark of High-heeled Boys". That could be useful????

 The clarion response is better after tweaking the reeds, but I suspect a few of the old dried out pads don't seal completely. A few are newer. The altissimo is better, which seems to point to leaks. It has improved or maybe I have. Playing it might be softening up these old pads.

It does handle very similarly to the bass Harry Pedler, which I am used to, except the bass is definitely in need of the peg. The alto is very slightly heavier than my typical grenadilla Bb soprano. Sitting, I find that I can cradle the bell between my knees and it sits at the perfect position. Standing, I like having the strap and the thumb pad and it can rest against either leg.

Going to larger clarinets reminds of old film camera formats. Parameters that are insignificant with a smaller device become problematic as the device gets bigger and the solutions tried might be diverse. For that reason, basses and altos tend to be quirky compared to sopranos.

What surprised me, and it might be improved, but the low clarion notes have a distinctly saxophone like tone. All altos might not be like that and this one might be different with new softer pads.

I'm going to learn to play it and see what it is like in ensembles. I'm glad I took a chance on a mostly open hole model because I'm sure I can easily manage it. Just for kicks I tried it with parade gloves and the low register played just fine.

When I say that these are quirky, it's mostly the result of the plateau strategies. This one has two relatively neutral plateaus, the left thumb and the c (L3) hole. The result is that some fingering alternatives are in order in places. This one has it's own "rules" that diverge from the typical ones we use on a soprano. And the bass is all plateau, so another set of exceptions in fingering apply to it. One has to have some fingers down to hold onto the instruments, and these need to be neutral or helpful to the tone and pitch character.

Switching from one size to the others is helpful in understanding the principles that apply to all clarinets, or at least it is for me.

For the added versatility, I think an alto could be a very useful addition, particularly in small ensembles. It's a lot of range in a small package.

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Offline Silversorcerer

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Re: Alto clarinet: the reason for it's lack of favor, or perspective gone awry?
« Reply #11 on: September 16, 2017, 04:51:39 PM »
I think this video come closer to validating the alto as an effective performance option:
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=T_IA8K7xK8g

I do like the arrangement but I'm not sure if alto clarinet is the "voice" I want to hear with it.

Check out this clarinet quartet performing Libertango, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QvyBnfLtbsE

        - - - - and then, a saxophone quartet - - - - , https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHOosbInDK4

I guess I prefer a little more edge to the sound on this particular composition but the alto clarinet does quite well with it.

OK, what this mostly confirms is that I really like A. Piazolla.

Anyway, if you only have one clarinet voice, it's different. I'd like to hear the clarinet quartet with an alto substitution for one of the sopranos.

With the sax quartet, the alto clarinet could have covered the parts of both the tenor and alto saxophone solos, and I prefer its' tones.

In any case, that tune lends itself well to single reed ensembles.
- Silversorcerer (David Powell) exclusively for Phil's original “The Clarinet Pages" forum

Offline Silversorcerer

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- Silversorcerer (David Powell) exclusively for Phil's original “The Clarinet Pages" forum

Offline Silversorcerer

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Re: Alto clarinet: the reason for it's lack of favor, or perspective gone awry?
« Reply #13 on: September 29, 2017, 02:25:50 PM »
This one, while perhaps a trite choice, does show how gorgeous the alto voicing can be in an ensemble. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Yu17hPfxAl0
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Offline Airflyte

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Re: Alto clarinet: the reason for it's lack of favor, or perspective gone awry?
« Reply #14 on: September 29, 2017, 04:58:27 PM »
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=t4eVFsmx3EM

(Bump!)

Who is this Bach fellow  ;)

This sounds really good on alto !

This man's posture and breath support appear to be perfect.

Ok, I just watched this again - how did this video get any "thumbs down"?  Really?
His is Dr. Mark Wolbers and he is a phenomenal alto clarinetist.

Here's another performance : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kbPYdQVRXv4
« Last Edit: September 29, 2017, 05:14:33 PM by Airflyte »
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